Our city water used to come from ground wells, but then, for some reason, the city had to start taking water from a lake. The water in the lake is runoff from farm land and is full of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and defoliants, with chlorine based chemicals added to make it “safe” to drink. Needless to say, it tastes horrible, which is why for about 15 years now, I’ve been using reverse osmosis type bottled water. When I first started getting it, I had to buy these 5 gallon containers, and then take them to a place and pay to get them filled (and haul the 40-pound full containers up a flight of stairs). Then I moved to a place with no stairs, and then, about four years ago, I started taking from a service. Even though they deliver it to the house, I’ve still got to lug them into the kitchen and up-end them onto the dispenser.
I’ve already had my left shoulder operated on (2008, rotator cuff repair) and two weeks ago, in the process of wrestling a 40-pound bottle of water onto my dispenser, I hurt my left shoulder again. When I hurt my shoulder the first time, I had a full time job with private insurance, and saw the physician of my choice. He did a cortisone injection, then an MRI, saw the damage, and I had the surgery all within about three months. Now I’m having to use the VA (I’m ex-USAF) because I can’t work full time, can’t find a decent part-time job, and I can’t afford private insurance, not even Obamacare.
My left arm and shoulder have been hurting pretty much constantly for two weeks now with no improvement. That tells me it’s not just a strain. I’ve torn something. Probably reinjured my rotator cuff. I know I need an MRI. My physician’s assistant at the VA knows I need an MRI, but they have to play by the rules, and the rules say I can’t have an MRI until after I’ve had it x-rayed (which is not going to tell them anything because x-rays won’t show soft tissue damage).
I called my physician’s assistant this morning, and she ordered an x-ray. Tomorrow I go get it. Then, I’ll have to wait to get an appointment to see her so she can tell me I need to see an orthopedist (duh!) because she can’t order an MRI. Then, I’ll have to wait to get an appointment with the orthopedist so the orthopedist can tell me I need an MRI (duh!). In order to get an MRI, I’ll have to get an appointment. Then I’ll have to ride six hours (round trip) on a rattletrap bus to the VA hospital in Amarillo to get the MRI because they don’t do MRIs here. Then I’ll have to wait and get an appointment with the orthopedist so he can tell me what the MRI showed and refer me to the orthopedic surgeon. Then I’ll have to wait to get an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, who’ll be in Amarillo — another 6 hour bus ride … You get the idea.
In the meantime, I get to be in constant pain because I’m allergic to opioids, which includes all the good pain killers: Oxycodone (Percocet), fentanyl, hydrocodone (Vicodin), methadone, codeine, morphine. (I’m also allergic to aspirin.) All I can take are acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). I can tell you now, neither Tylenol nor Aleve even takes the edge off.
Now, during this same two-week period, I’ve been having to sit and type for hours at a time for this nickel and dime outfit I work for because I’ve got to come up with $125 by Wednesday to pay my city utility bill (electricity, water, sewage and garbage collection). So this past Saturday, I’d been up typing since 4 a.m. (might as well, I can’t sleep), and about 8:30 my mom calls. First words out of her mouth: “Your father fell again last night.” He hurt his shoulder in the fall, and she wants to know if I can come help her get him to the doctor so he can have his shoulder x-rayed. Of course, I’m right in the middle of a 27-minute report that took me four hours to type, is due back in an hour and a half and they penalize you if you start a job and don’t finish it, or turn it in late. (I earned a whopping $16.20 for typing it.) On top of that, I can’t lift anything much heavier than a dinner plate with my left arm, so I wouldn’t have been a whole lot of help anyway.
She was able to get one of the nurses to come help her get him out of the car, and they x-rayed it, and nothing looked broken. By Sunday, the pain in his shoulder had gone away and he was fine. About 10 o’clock Monday morning, mom calls again. The doctor’s office had called and said Dad had a nondisplaced fracture. Didn’t say of what. Just said he had a nondisplaced fracture. There’s only three bones in the shoulder: The humerus (upper arm bone), the scapula (shoulder blade) and the clavicle (collar bone). Since he can walk with his walker fine, it can’t be his humerus or his scapula, so by process of elimination, it has to be his clavicle. It’s sore to touch, but it doesn’t hurt otherwise, and he can use his arm fine. The treatment? Tincture of time.
But here’s the thing: My dad is 91, frail, nearly blind, and can barely totter around with a walker. He eats like a bird, and he’s practically skin and bones. The intervals between his falls are steadily decreasing. I would be dismayed, but not surprised, if my mom called me saying she thinks my dad has fallen and broken his hip. (Or has broken his hip and fallen, which is more common in the elderly than you might think.) But then, he’s at high risk for aspiration pneumonia, heart attack, stroke (he’s already had several small ones), and ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, too. At this point, we’re just taking it one day at a time. That’s all we can do.